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Book Review: by Lang Reid

The Treasures of Angkor

The former Thai foreign minister, Noppadon Pattama was forced to resign following pressure over his handling of Cambodia’s listing of the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site. Since then Preah Vihear has been constantly in the news and much political posturing has ensued.
When I spotted the Cultural Travel Guide in Bookazine called The Treasures of Angkor by Marilia Albanese (ISBN 9-7888-5440-1, White Star Publishers, 2006) I immediately claimed it for review. Preah Vihear would have to be a main feature, or so I thought. After all, it was now to be a World Heritage site. Cambodia, which was awarded sovereignty over Preah Vihear temple in a 1962 World Court ruling, has even been threatening to take the issue to the United Nations Security Council.
Alas, Marilia Alabanese, the writer of this beautifully produced book and a world accredited Indo-China historian, only gives this Hindu Khmer temple two references in the index. There appears to be a conflict somewhere. A conflict of interest perhaps? Or a conflict of borders. Or just the fact that she has concentrated her research on Angkor.
The book begins with a historical overview, and the Preah Vihear belongs to the era of King Suryavarman (1010-1050) when the country was called Kambuja, and its king ruled much of present day Thailand as well as the Khmer territory.
There is just so much information in this book that it will take many hours of reading to get through it all. It is also fairly significant that much of the Angkor and Cambodian history overlaps that of Thailand, including the Ramayana which is depicted in temple carvings. One is left wondering just how the two countries of Thailand and Cambodia could have become so divergent in such a relatively short period.
The book is divided into one day, two day and three day tours. Each part of the temple sites is detailed with its particular history and then details of what you should see. Each item is accompanied by color photographs of very high quality, and a detailed map and plan of the buildings.
The research which has gone into writing this book is very, very detailed, even down to measurements of the buildings. For example, Ta Prohm Kel is one of the 102 chapels of the hospitals built at the behest of King Jayavarman VII. In these hospitals were 98 people plus an astrologist and two officiants.
The sheer size of the Angkor Wat and the surrounding buildings is awe inspiring, and one is left wondering at how they could have been left to return to the jungle.
At the back is a good glossary and an index to assist the reader.
At B. 795, this is not a cheap publication, but the printing and the full-bleed color plates are superb. Even though the publishers are Italian and the book was originally in Italian and has been subsequently translated into English, the printing was done in China, showing the Chinese can do it if they try. A truly enthralling book, and one that deserves to be on your bookshelf. A fascinating read.